Vet Blog

Noise Aversion in Dogs: Importance of Diagnosis and Treatment

June 04, 2023

Over two-thirds of dogs have noise aversion, a debilitating but treatable anxiety condition.

Despite the high prevalence, most noise-averse dogs go undiagnosed and untreated, despite their condition worsening over time. Because dogs with noise aversion suffer similarly to a human with a panic attack, the Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team shares the importance of diagnosing and treating this condition.

Noise Aversion Signs in Dogs

Noise aversion is a diagnosable and treatable anxiety condition defined by a predictable and abnormal response to noise. Trigger noises are most commonly fireworks and thunderstorms, but may include construction noise, doorbells, alarms, appliances, and more. Dogs who are not noise-averse may startle briefly or show no reaction, but noise-averse dogs are stricken with panic and fear that can last minutes to hours after the noise stops.

Signs range from subtle to severe and may include:

  • Lip-licking or yawning excessively
  • Drooling or panting
  • Attempting to escape or run away
  • Hiding
  • Clinging to people
  • Trembling or cowering
  • Vocalizing
  • Refusing to eat or take treats
  • Destructive behavior
  • Urinating or defecating

Why Most Dogs With Noise Aversion Go Undiagnosed

Most dogs with noise aversion go undiagnosed and untreated for several reasons, including:

  • Pet owners don't realize that their pet's behavior is abnormal.
  • Noise events happen sporadically, and pets behave normally in between.
  • Veterinarians do not routinely ask about noise aversion during wellness visits.

Increasing pet owners' awareness of this condition will help our team identify more pets who would benefit from treatment.

Importance of Diagnosing Noise Aversion in Dogs

Dogs with undiagnosed noise aversion suffer during noise events and are more likely to develop other anxiety disorders. Whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship is unknown, but researchers have found a distinct link-88% of dogs with noise aversion also develop separation anxiety, while 74% of dogs with separation anxiety develop noise aversion. Because separation anxiety occurs only in the owner's absence and is difficult to diagnose, recognizing noise aversion should prompt a thorough behavioral evaluation checking for other disorders that may impact a dog's quality of life.

Untreated noise aversion will also worsen over time-not improve, as many pet owners mistakenly assume. Early interventions may not completely "cure" the pet's anxiety, but can prevent the problem from progressing and improve the pet's overall quality of life.

Canine Acute Noise Aversion Treatment Options

Most pets cannot think, learn, or behave rationally during a noisy event, because their brain is hijacked by anxiety. Situational treatment focuses on reducing acute, innate fear and panic, helps pets relax, and prevents them from hurting themselves or destroying their homes. Nearly all pets with noise aversion need prescription medications during noise events to achieve this goal.

Other strategies to reduce fear and stress during a noise event include:

  • Placing pets in a secure, familiar, quiet area, insulated from noise
  • Playing soothing music or white noise, or trying dog ear muffs
  • Placing an anxiety wrap (e.g., a ThunderShirt)
  • Spraying pheromones in the room, on your pet's bedding, or on their anxiety wrap

Long-term Noise Aversion Management in Dogs

In addition to noise event management, most pets will benefit from longer-term treatments with the goal of reducing noise reactivity and preventing pets from developing new noise triggers or other anxiety disorders.

Professional positive-reinforcement dog trainers and veterinary behaviorists are the best resources for creating a long-term treatment plan for your pet, which may include the following:

  • Daily anti-anxiety medications
  • Gradual desensitization protocols using recorded sounds
  • Counterconditioning to replace a negative with a positive response

These training techniques are not effective for all dogs, because sound recordings don't always simulate the entire noise event, such as a thunderstorm, and some dogs do not react. Still, working with a behavior professional will give your pet the best chance at long-term success.

Noise aversion is a serious condition that can affect your dog's long-term health, well-being, and quality of life, and damage your relationship with your pet. The Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team can diagnose and treat your noise-averse dog and create a long-term management plan. Contact us to schedule a visit or to learn more about managing canine anxiety disorders.